Exploring the Versatility of Caskmates Collaborations at GABF
For the second year, Jameson Whiskey sponsored and participated in the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). Twenty-two brewing partners used Jameson Irish Whiskey barrels to age beer and then pour the finished product for fans in the energetic, music-filled Caskmates Barrel Aged Beer Garden. For this Irish (craft beer loving) American writer, it was my (pleasurable) task to drink as many of the 45-plus creations and provide my feedback.
The most striking theme: variety
One might presume that the predominant style would have involved stouts and porters, and the IPA series has emerged as a popular Caskmates version, too. But the series has also expanded to include red and golden ales, sour and milkshake IPAs, smoked porters, bocks, Dunkelweizens, Berliners and more. Brewers routinely used the barrels differently, from how long the beer was kept in the barrel to what was done to the beer before and after resting in the whiskey-soaked oak.
Four Standouts: Familiar Flavors
Revolution Brewing Double Barrel Barleywine with Blackberries.
Rev has a knack for the Caskmates game. They even went to Dublin to brew a Chicago-only version of its Fist City Pale Ale, which became part of the Caskmates family. The Blackberry Barleywine, besides abound in whiskey notes and barrel character, is a superb barleywine with additional blackberry tart and sweet characteristics that result in mixology-minded beer creation.
Captain Lawrence Brewing Smoked Porter
One might fear the smoke character would destroy any oak or whiskey notes, but the beer enjoyed the proverbial Goldilocks “not too much, not too little” level of smoke, The whiskey, porter, smoke and the lovely addition of vanilla all amounted to one fine beer.
River Horse Brewing Craic Dry Irish Stout
Who says you have to think beyond the pale? The Dry Irish Stout makes sense, both because of the Jameson Irish barrel and because of the traditional marriage of stouts and barrels. Throw in coffee and vanilla notes and one gets a beer that’s part Irish Coffee, part kick-ass St. Paddy’s Day shot and beer combo.
Friends and Allies Brewing Lobby Boy Porter
A beer that enjoys subtle oak and Irish whiskey notes (which should be remembered is much different than Bourbon) blended seamlessly with the porter. No reason to over-think this beer; it was a well-executed porter with a kiss of Jameson. Simple; light on the tongue; aromatic; tasty.
Standout examples of varying styles of Caskmates Collaborations
Dubbel/Tripel | Black Abbey Lorica Belgian Dubbel & Hidden Cornerstone Belgian Tripel
Arguably the two most sophisticated Caskmates beers came from Black Abbey with both its Dubbel and Tripel. Lorica, a traditional Belgian-style Dubbel presents as a rich and malty beer with a dry finish and the takes subtle flavors from the barrel comprised of oak and whiskey, as well as stone fruit and a bit of vanilla. The Tripel offers a showcase of Belgian yeast with bit of spice and clove, as well as a little oak and vanilla from the barrel. In short, the familiar flavors remain but the Jameson barrel provides a subtle, but pleasurable twist.
Pumpkin | Evil Genius Beer Trick or Treat Caskmates
I can almost hear the trolls reaching to comment, but the combination of whiskey, pumpkin, spices …well, they aren’t lying when they call themselves Evil Geniuses.
New England IPA | Sixpoint Brewery Long Blink NE Style IPA
I know, I know. No way, right? That’s what I thought, too, until I tasted it. Granted, Sixpoint removed the beer from the barrel before giving it the DDH treatment, but the final product was a delicious NEIPA with a dry finish, and just a kiss of Jameson — excellent.
Old Fashioned (IPA) | Fulton Beer Sweet Child Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned has grown into a popular variant found in several BA releases this year, and Fulton’s version certainly did not disappoint. The IPA enjoyed time in the barrel with cherries and oranges, providing the beer with an abundance of flavors that rival any good cocktail. But, the beer also offers a touch of hops flavor that remind you it’s still a well-crafted beer.
Golden Ale | Green Flash Brewing Golden Ale
Because when you think of Green Flash, you think of Golden Ale…aged In whiskey barrels. Right? Of course not. But, if you didn’t taste it at GABF, you missed out. The whiskey acted as a lovely addition to the traditional Golden Ale resulting in a beer akin to a high-end, sophisticated boilermaker.
Just as the Carolinas and Kansas City treat barbecue differently, Foolproof and Cigar City produced two disparate Red Ale Caskmates demonstrating that the pairing not only worked exceptionally well, but enjoyed versatility. Foolproof proved to be the most balanced — a malty red ale with gentle Jameson flavor — while Cigar City let the Jameson shine (almost better than any brew in the entire Casemates section). Both different, both enjoyable.